Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hanky Code for iphones

From "Twenty years after Keith Haring wrote in his journal that AIDS had marked the end of street pick-ups and seven years after Manhunt began, cruising is making a comeback in New York. A new breed of young gays I spoke to last week say they’re learning about the look-back, the stop, the double-look back, and the approach all over again. On the heels of this news comes word that the hanky code, the popular 70’s phenomenon where gay men placed one or more colored handkerchiefs in their left or right back pockets to indicate sexual preference, has been having a resurgence on the West Coast. Now Jonathan Leach and Karl Burkart, two entrepreneurs from California, have created an application for your iPhone that creates a virtual hanky that you can stick in your back pocket. I spoke to Jonathan last week to find out if this is the next wave in technological gay sex advancements, or a step in the wrong direction.

BUTT: How did you first get interested in the Hanky Code?
Jonathan: When I moved to Atlanta in 2004 there was a gay bay there called Fierce. I knew the owners and we had this fantastic group of friends that would go there Thursday and Friday nights. We got together and decided we were going to take back the hanky code. So we made posters with a graph of the hanky code explaining what all the colors meant and bought a ton of hankies and handed them out. The idea was that you would grab a person and mix and match your hankies and have fun. We ended up having hanky code night almost every Thursday for quite a while. They were just a lot of fun.

And this led to you creating the iPhone application?
Yeah, I tend to keep the bar flyers and also any posters and everything from the Hanky Code nights. One day I was taking a shower and I got out of the shower and I was looking at the wall and I saw the hanky code poster and I had just bought the iPhone. And I thought ‘I wonder if there’s any app for the hanky code?’ I went into my bedroom typed hanky code into the iTunes search and it showed up that there wasn’t a hanky code app. So I started thinking that maybe it was something I wanted to develop. I got together with my friend Karl and we spent the weekend just planning it out.

How does it work? Is it like Grindr?
Not really. Suppose you were at a bar and you saw someone with a real hanky in their back pocket, you could just pull up the app real quick, click on the color and it would give you the meaning. The app also will light up your screen with a picture of whatever hanky you are so the iPhone actually becomes the hanky. If you’re at a coffee shop or a restaurant somewhere and you’re working on your computer you can have your iPhone to the left or to the right of your computer or your coffee and guys walk by and the notice it and they’re like ‘hmm.’

How many different options/ colors are there in the Hanky Code?
The color options are limitless and go into things ranging from car keys to doilies. To start with the first version though, we selected about thirty or so of our favorite colors to get people use to it.

Can you explain a little bit of the history of the hanky code?
Oh it has a rich history. The hanky code began in the mid-to-late nineteenth century with male miners and cowboys in San Francisco who, because of a shortage of women to dance with, were forced to dance with other men, and so they used hankies in their back pocket to say that they would dance the male or female role in these square dances. Then it got picked up by gay men again in the 70’s and re-appropriated as a secret sex code. It was a way of putting yourself out there but in a safe category so that that straight people and police and the people that would be out to harm you wouldn’t understand it. It was a very important step in coming out of the closet.

So why bring it back now? Doesn’t having a secret code when people are coming out at more rapid rates kind of go backwards a little?
I think gay culture is going back into the closet, but more of a digital closet. With an app like this, people see the phone to the left or the right of you, they see your face, you know they understand the color or they can look it up. You’re not back in that digital closet. You’re not on Manhunt or somewhere looking at profiles in the privacy of your home. You’re out and you’re seen.

But with the hanky code, it seems to narrow down what sexual options are out there, and place walls in between different types of sexual fetishes. How will people who have multiple fetishes and desires be able to use the Hanky Code?
I don’t see it as categorizing preference at all. The hanky code offers the freedom of adding anything you can stuff into your pocket or tie around your neck to establish a preference. In the case of wanting to look for more than one thing, stuff your pockets as full as you want and advertise.. I think that most gay men can narrow it down to a few things in a pinch, and if they need more.. I guess they will just have to find jeans with a lot of back pockets.

Do you have any memorable hanky experiences of your own to share with us?
Oh yes, my favorite story about wearing hankies happened a few months after I moved to San Francisco. It was late on Sunday when I was gathering my clothes so that I could take them to the laundry mat. Before I left I noticed a pile of hankies in the corner of the closet that needed to be washed. I arrived at the laundromat, started doing my laundry, and noticed a guy across from me playing an arcade game and made eye contact. This continued well into the drying cycle and had progressed to the level of repositioning our cocks in order to offer small previews of size and length. By the time the buzzer on the dryer rang, we had already had our first conversation and were well into a foxy game of touch and stroke. Time was against me though as his laundry was finished and I still had to fold and pack mine up. Knowing this, he kindly offered to help and drive me home so that I did not have to brave the climb back up my street.

Opening the dryer, hankys of several colors and meanings flopped out and his eyes lit up. He asked which hanky was my favorite. I answered in all honesty that the brown lace worn right would be my choice. He asked what it meant. I answered ‘uncut if worn left’, ‘likes uncut if worn right’. He told me he could help me out with that given that he was Brazilian. Next thing I remember was opening the door to my apartment and showing him the way to my bedroom where I proceeded to check out his claim and indeed he pulled out one of the finest uncut specimens of the male penis I had ever seen. We romped for quite a while and as I walked him out I noticed it had just turned 1:30 a.m. and my laundry had still not been completed..

The Hanky Code iPhone app is available on Itunes, or at

Interview by Adam Baran"